Monday, October 13, 2014

Write arounds for topic selection

A couple weeks ago one of the Humanities teachers approached me about introducing some resources for students who would be doing research papers on World War I. As we talked, I realized that my introduction of resources would be the the introduction students would be getting to this research paper, and so I asked about doing some topic-selection work with students to get started. I then briefly outlined the concept of write-arounds, and the teacher was excited to try something new as an opener for the research paper.

I'd never done a write around before, but I'd read about all of Buffy Hamilton's work with the idea and was eager to try it out. I was also a little nervous, as this was my first time collaborating with this teacher and I really wanted this to go well.

After a little consultation with the teacher, I dug into our primary source databases, and did some other World War I searching (the 100 year anniversary of the start of the war means that there is a LOT of great World War I resources out there, including several excellent Twitter feeds). I tried to pick out things that would provide some background knowledge and also spark questions that could lead to future research. Since this was an introduction to World War I, I couldn't rely on students having any background knowledge.

I found a pile of great articles and images, and then sifted through to find the best of the best. We had a class of 28, so I made seven groupings of five different passages and images. Often there were connections (direct or implied) between at least two of the articles submitted, but each collection represented a range of events. Some of the articles appeared in more than one set, but no two collections were exactly alike. I taped each grouping on a separate piece of large chart paper and I also bought a bunch of different-colored pens, so each group member would have a different color--I almost forgot to do this, but am so glad I did. Everyone having a different colored pen makes it easier for me and the teachers to "see" the conversations, and to better understand how different students interacted with the text.


 And it was awesome. I was amazed at how quickly students engaged with the text. We have a strong culture around annotation here, which definitely helped, but it was still amazing to see how focused and engaged students were. Papers quickly filled up with writing and lines and questions and images--and the occasional disagreement about an interpretation.

After--this represents about 10 minutes of write-around time

After giving them some writing time, I asked each group to select a scribe who would write down "What we discovered" and "What we're still wondering about" lists for their group and email them to me. Students quickly moved from quiet work to small group discussions about the texts they'd been reading.

Next, we came back for a large group discussion and I asked students to share what they discovered and what they were wondering about. Several hands shot up immediately, and students added to their peers' questions and discoveries by sharing what they'd learned from their own write arounds. Eventually I had to cut off the conversation so I could review next steps in the process--and several students were visibly disappointed. I want to emphasize this--I had to cut off an intense conversation about World War I research at 3:00 on a Friday afternoon. I was there and I still can't quite believe it.

I spent the last portion of class giving them a brief overview of some of the sources on the LibGuide for their class that would be helpful as they explore these questions and settle on a research topic. No database reviews or source-type requirements--just a "choose your own" exploration to help them get a bit more familiar. 

After class, I compiled each group's "Discovered/Wondering" lists into one big document and posted it to the class LibGuide so all could reference it. I also took pictures of each write around and compiled it into a slideshow--both so students could reference their own work, but also so they could see what their peers had been learning about. I'm excited to go back to this class and see what kinds of research topics they've settled on. 

If I were to do this as a pre-searching activity again (which I think I may have the opportunity to do), I'd like to try having students move between different sets of articles--perhaps moving between different themed groupings or responding to the same articles/topics in different contexts. I loved how the low-stakes process of the write-around made diving into a new topic so inviting--I think this is a process that will definitely help nudge more research towards inquiry. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

On settling in

I have a terrible sense of direction. I am fascinated by people who, when asked which direction is north, just point. Confidently. It occurs to me that they could all be wrong, but I would never know. Moving to a new area entails heavy reliance on maps and detailed directions. As I learn a new area every time I can get someplace without having to rely on GPS feels like a victory.

I was driving home from work Monday evening; it was around 7:30, right around the time dusk was turning to dark. I have several routes to and from work mastered, but just a few miles from school the road was closed, and traffic was being routed down a side street and I found myself on an unmarked detour. No worries--I grabbed my GPS from the glovebox and hit "Home."

And then lost satellite reception.

There I was. On back roads that I'd never been on before, without the type of information I thought I'd have available to me. It was dark. I had no landmarks to go by. I just kept driving, taking the turns that seemed right, hoping that I didn't get even more lost. Nothing looked familiar for the longest time, until eventually I found myself at an intersection I recognized. Relieved, I took the turn and continued on my way home.

Two months into my new job, this is how I feel: I still don't entirely have my bearings, but I feel like I'm headed in the right direction.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thoughts on being back

In my head, I was going to write this right around my first day of school, but I had forgotten how exhausting the start of the school year can be, and how overwhelming it can be to be somewhere new. Learning new names, learning new curriculum, learning the quirks of a new photocopier. 

I am so excited to be back working with students and teachers, though. As amazing as the last year has been (and oh, it was, in so many ways, but if I try and summarize it I'll be here all night and it is a school night after all), I missed working with students. I missed the energy that comes when you are able to share a great idea or resource with a colleague. 

But it's not exactly like picking up where I left off when I left my last positions. I don't have the same relationships with my new colleagues--relationships that took years to build. Some days it's hard to remember how much time and work went into building those relationships--and I get a little impatient. 

I also feel a lot of pressure around making a good first impression. Obviously, making a good first impression will make it easier for me to build relationships with teachers and students that make it possible for me to do my job--but mostly I feel the pressure because I know that the impression they have of me will shape the impression they have of librarians in general. 

I often think of this whenever I see an "X things teachers should know about librarians" or "X things administrators should know about librarians" article. My first thought is always, "if they don't know those things, it's not their fault." While administrators, teachers, and students know enough teachers in order to generalize and know that teachers come in good/bad/in-between, sometimes they've only worked with one or two librarians. And if those librarians didn't do X, Y, or Z, well. . . they're not going to assume that other librarians will either. Articles about what librarians do are meaningless without evidence.

It's a lot of pressure, is what I'm saying.

I know it will take time for my new colleagues to really learn who I am, but I wanted to make an initial attempt at explaining my philosophy and vision for the library. Those of you who know me know that I have a deep, abiding love for Venn diagrams, and as I thought about the best way to explain my philosophy a Venn diagram took shape in my head.

I'm honestly sort of beside-myself happy about this Venn diagram. And if other school librarians like this, I hope they'll share it with their colleagues. But it will be meaningless unless our everyday actions match it.

In a way, this is my thesis statement for who I am as a librarian; my day-to-day work is how I provide evidence.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Goodbye, Hello

These are the first pictures I have of my library.

I took them after my interview, about 15 minutes after I was offered the job. I'd gone out to my car, grabbed my camera, and asked if I could be let back in to take a few pictures. 

A couple weeks ago, I said goodbye to my library. 

I thought a lot about whether to think of it and describe it as saying goodbye to "the" library or "my" library--because these are the things you think about as you are saying goodbye to an empty room. I settled on calling it "my library" because what I was saying goodbye to was not that empty room, but to the time I've spent there, and the people I've spent it with. 

About a week before I packed up my office, a recent graduate contacted me to ask for some book recommendations. After suggesting some titles and authors, he said, "Thanks. I told my mom I was going to call my librarian."

No past tense. No definite (or indefinite) article. My librarian.

My library continues to exist, just as I hope my students always think of me as their librarian.

The past six years in the library--and the experiences my students have had there--have been guided by my principles and philosophy of education and librarianship. And this philosophy has been shaped and influenced by thinkers and writers inside and outside of school libraries.

With that in mind, and as I look towards the next phase of my career as an educator, I have created a new blog in order to share the ideas, articles, videos, and conversations that inspire me and shape my thinking about the future of education: When I Run the School

Please check out my first post, and share some of what inspires you. 

Because in reality I don't think of the library I said goodbye to as "my" library--I think of it as "our" library, belonging to students and teachers who shared that space with me. And they shared more than the space--they shared ideas, they shared passions, they shared frustrations, and they shared their hopes. 

Education is not an individual pursuit. Our education, throughout our lives, is shaped by the people we interact with, and the ideas that inspire them. It is what we all bring to this conversation that will shape the future. I look forward to continuing the conversation. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

On Sisyphus and Shoes

When I first started working here the default password for most library accounts was set to "sisyphus." In retrospect, that maybe should have been a red flag. But it was my first librarian job, the library was newly renovated, and I was so excited to jump in and get started that I looked right past that and started digging through boxes and making plans.

Six years later, as I look back on what I've accomplished here, I get it. There have been times when I've felt like I was pushing a boulder up a hill--and there have been times when I've felt like I've been crushed by the boulder rolling back down the hill and right over me. But as I look back I'm kind of amazed and overwhelmed by how far up the hill I've managed to get this boulder.

There are tangible successes (the average age of my collection went from 1984 to 1996), and far more intangible successes. The other day I was watching a group of students in an Improv class do their final performance, and one of the games they played was "World's Worst" (the audience suggests job titles, and the performers do their interpretation of what the "world's worst ___________" would be like). Curious to see what they would come up with, I called out, "librarian." Afterwards, a student came up to me and said, "I couldn't think of anything. How do you be a bad librarian?"

I have dozens of stories like that to carry with me (seriously, I keep them in a file for when I need cheering up), and as proud as I am of the program I've built and the lessons I've taught, what I'm proudest of are the relationships I've built with students and teachers. Knowing that students leave this school with a positive impression of librarians and libraries is one of the greatest things I've ever accomplished.

When I first started to tell people I was planning on leaving my position and going back to school next year, several people said, "they're never going to be able to fill your shoes." To which I would reply with the line often attributed to Charles De Gaulle: "The graveyards are full of indispensable men." I do appreciate the sentiment more deeply than I can express, but I also believe that everyone is replaceable. No, the new librarian will not be like me. Which is fine. Good, even. I will know that the library is truly an integral part of the school if someone else can step in, take over, and keep it moving forward.

I've been asked what I want to see continue after I'm gone. What I most want to continue is not a specific program or unit (though I hope many of them keep happening and continue to get better), but the feeling faculty and students have about the library--that it's a place you can come with all kinds of questions and ideas and find support and encouragement. I know many people are capable of doing that, but it's not something I know how to write in a manual. But I also know it's something I didn't do on my own, and that that feeling will persist long after I'm gone. I will know I've been successful if faculty and students don't just feel this way about me and our library, but about all libraries and librarians.

But I do worry about that sometimes. How much of the success of my program is built on what I do, and how much is built on who I am--the personal connections I make with faculty and students? As much as I believe that you can't build a program on a personality, I know that in no small part what I do is successful because of who I am. What becomes of a program that has a specific personality as its cornerstone? It will take time for the new librarian to build the same relationships and connections, but it is possible. The foundation is made of a solid philosophy of librarianship that I believe will endure.

I also know that the colleagues I'm leaving behind are interested in building those relationships with a new librarian, because they are the same colleagues who welcomed me and helped me build this program. I want to thank them for so many things: for sharing their good ideas with me, and letting me jump on board; for jumping on board when I shared my (good and. . . less good) ideas with them; for pushing back, as it helped me refine what I believe in and what I think is important; for being so passionate about what they do, and sharing that passion with me; for laughing with me--and laughing at me when I needed it.

I'm going to miss working with them. All of them. Really.

The thing I'm struggling with most about being a full-time student next year is that I won't be working with students on a day-to-day basis. I didn't really realize how important that is to me until I was faced with not having that as part of my day. Realizing that has been a valuable confirmation that I am in exactly the right line of work for me--and also made saying goodbye to students at yesterday's graduation particularly difficult.

As anxious (and overwhelmed and excited and nervous) as I am about this next step, I am eager to take the philosophy of education I've developed while working as a school librarian and think about how to apply it to schools as a whole.

I know I haven't written much this year. It has been, as you might imagine, a tumultuous year, and so much of what I've been thinking about has been hard to put into words. I have struggled with writing this post, because I want the people I work with to know how truly important they've been to me, and I want people reading this from afar to know how truly incredible the people I work with are.

I think work that you're passionate about always feels a bit like pushing a boulder up a mountain, and I am so, so grateful to have had so many people pushing this boulder with me. I couldn't have done it without you.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Relentless Optimism at CIL

I was so honored to be a part of Tuesday night's Innovative and Awesome Tech panel at Computers in Libraries. It was a total blast. My Relentless Optimism slides are below (they might not make much sense without me speaking along with them, but I think they're still fun).

I've also written about Relentless Optimism on my blog before. And if you're interested in learning more about how we're wired for optimism, I highly recommend The Science of Optimism by Tali Sharot.

Learning 2.0 and 23 Things in Schools

On Monday I was lucky enough to present with Polly Farrington and Sarah Ludwig on "Learning 2.0 and 23 Things in Schools" at the Internet @ Schools track at Computers in Libraries. My slides are below:

You can also check out the 14 Things to Tame blog I used at my school.

And, of course, here's the video about the symptoms (and cure for) TADIS: